Silica is extensively deposited by plants, however, only little is known about the molecular control over this process. Siliplant1 is the only known plant protein to precipitate biosilica. The protein contains seven repeats made of three domains. One of the domains exhibits a conserved sequence, which catalyzes silica precipitation in vitro. Here, silica was synthesized by the activity of a peptide carrying this conserved sequence. Infrared spectroscopy and thermal gravimetric analyses showed that the peptide was bound to the mineral. Scanning electron microscopy showed that silica-peptide particles of 22 ± 4 nm aggregated to spherical structures of 200–300 nm when the ratio of silicic acid to the peptide was below 183:1 molecules. When the ratio was about 183:1, similar particles aggregated into irregular structures, and silica gel formed at higher ratios. Solid-state NMR spectra indicated that the irregular aggregates were richer in Si-O-Si bonds as well as disordered peptide. Our results suggest that the peptide catalyzed the condensation of silicic acid and the formation of ∼20 nm particles, which aggregated into spheres. Excess of the peptide stabilized surface Si-OH groups that prevented spontaneous Si-O-Si bonding between aggregates. Under Si concentrations relevant to plant sap, the peptide and possibly Siliplant1, could catalyze nucleation of silica particles that aggregate into spherical aggregates.
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- Biomimetic silicification